Friday, September 29, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Skin

[I wrote this pretty much as I thought of it, without really planning, and I'm not sure how it comes across. Well, I'll let you be the judge of that. PM]

There's an old trick quiz question: what is the largest organ of the human body? In my (admittedly limited) experience, people tend to say the liver, but the correct answer is the skin. I wonder why we get this wrong, when our skin is arguably the part of our body that we see the most. Perhaps it's because we tend to think of 'internal organs', while the skin is very much external. Yet so is the nose (for example), in the sense that you can see it on a person's body; but I'd guess that most people would readily class that as an organ. Why do we think differently about the skin?

What is skin anyway? I don't mean in the structural sense of dermis, epidermis and so on; or even necessarily in the functional sense (it keeps in the things that should be kept in and keeps out the stuff that should be kep out, amongst other jobs). I mean, what is skin to us? We say that something is as familiar as the back of our hand, but how often have you actually looked at the back of your hand? (I've read that before, but can't remember where; so I apologize to whoever came up with it first.)

Well, the first thing I notice when I look at the back of my hand is the colour -- or, rather, colours: it's not simply 'white' or 'pink' but a complex mixture of shades that defies easy description -- and of course there are lines of blue where I can see the veins underneath. Looking closer, I see hairs at the base of my hand that spread down my arm; the points which (I assume) are either pores or where the hairs emerge; and an astonishing network of lines. I stare along the back of my hand and try to imagine what it would feel like to be shrunk to microscopic sze and faced with such alien topography; imagine trying to climb over the hills of the knuckles, only for them to turn suddenly into valleys when the fingers are raised...

But the thing is, when I look at my hand, I see a hand, not skin. It's warm to the touch, but the heat comes from blood. And I can only describe the texture as... like skin. So it's strange stuff, is skin: we couldn't live without it, we see it every day; but, in a sense, it's as good as invisible.

Really gets under your skin, if you think about it.


At 5:43 PM, Blogger Chelle Y. said...

This is the second time I read today that "skin" was the largest organ of the human body!

I am so getting my science lesson today! :)

Great post!

At 6:08 PM, Blogger jayne said...

I really like this post. Kinda goes down the "forest for the trees" bit there at the end.

Oh..and it jump-started my writing for this week's topic. Thanks!

S(k)inful Thoughts

At 12:21 AM, Anonymous my backyard said...

I especially enjoyed the paragraph looking at the back of your hand and imagining someone scaling that topography.


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